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Frames and Textboxes in Microsoft Word

Word has two independent containers for text (and other objects): Frames and Textboxes. Frames predate Word 97; Textboxes were introduced (I think) with Word 97. This page is for all versions of Word from Word 97-2016 (and probably later).

Like many of the pages on this site, this one arose out of my ignorance. In 2014 someone asked about the relative benefits of using these two Word features; acting out of hubris I gave my opinion (which was incomplete and potentially erroneous). Two Word MVP's graciously corrected me without calling me an idiot and I determined to revisit the subject with what I learned from them and from playing with the features. I used the books Microsoft Word 2010 In Depth by Faithe Wempen and Microsoft Word 2010 Bible by Herb Tyson as references. Not everything about Frames in Word 2010 in Depth was correct and I could find little reference to creating or using Frames in the Microsoft Word 2010 Bible.

I hope that this page will improve with time. Both Textboxes and Frames have evolved over time. To some extent those changes are noted in the chart below. This chart has bullet points rather than numbers because I do not know which features are important to you. To me, the most important advantages of Frames are (1) the ability of Frames to be part of a Style definition and (2) the ability of Frames to usefully hold certain fields that don't work in Textboxes. The most important advantages of Textboxes are (1) (beginning with Word 2010) Textboxes can be rotated with their text and (2) Textboxes can float in front of or behind text. For many users, the most important feature of Textboxes is that they can be linked. I have used Textboxes much more than I have Frames.

Comparison of Frames and Textboxes -- Change Text Orientation -- Save for Reuse

Let's start with a listing some of the attributes of each. As you can see, they share a number of attributes. I have used Italics to highlight differences where the attributes are different. The words "Textbox" and "Frame" are capitalized in this page.


 
Frame Textbox
bulletHolds text
bulletCan be a part of a Paragraph Style definition and will be overwritten by application of a different Paragraph Style not having the frame definition
bulletSince they can be saved as Styles, frames can be a part of the QuickStyles Gallery in ribbon versions of Word
bulletCan be saved as an AutoText entry
bulletCan have a background fill - color can be picked
bulletCan have a border - color can be picked - border can be different on different sides
bulletText orientation can be at 90 (or 270) degrees from page orientation* **
bulletHeight and width can automatically adjust to expand with more text
bulletText object created in document layer: Is in the document level - text must wrap around a Frame
 
bulletVertical placement of text is at the top of Frame (although can use space-before formatting.
bulletCan be placed in a page margin
bulletPrinting is not controlled by the option to "Print drawing objects created in Word"
bulletDisplay on screen is not controlled by the option to "Show drawings and Textboxes on screen"
bulletCannot be linked. Each is independent of other Frames.
bulletCan contain pictures or other graphical elements.
bulletCan start a footnote/endnote
bulletCan contain a caption that will be seen for cross-reference or a table of figures purposes
bulletCan contain a comment
bulletCan contain certain fields including:
bulletAUTONUM
bulletAUTONUMLGL
bulletAUTONUMOUT
bulletTC
bulletTOC
bulletRD
bulletXE
bulletTA
bulletTOA
bulletSTYLEREF
bulletFORMTEXT
bulletFORMCHECKBOX
bulletFORMDROPDOWN
 
bulletHeadings in Frames will appear in Navigation Pane or Document Map (use of Document Map discouraged)
bulletHeadings in Frames will appear in Tables of Contents
 
bulletVery rudimentary formatting as this is not a graphical object
bulletAutomatic numbering (list, multilevel) available
bulletShapes in created in Word cannot be converted to Frames****
bulletFrames cannot be rotated because they are not shapes.
 
bulletHolds text
bulletCannot be a part of a Style definition and can contain other styles

 
bulletThere is a Textboxes Gallery in Ribbon Versions of Word
 
bulletCan be saved as an AutoText entry or in the Textboxes Gallery (Building Blocks)
bulletCan have a background fill - color can be picked
bulletCan have a border - color can be picked - border must be the same on all sides
 
bulletText orientation can be at 90 (or 270) degrees from page orientation*
bulletHeight of Textbox can be set to automatically increase to hold text in later versions of Word
bulletGraphical object created in drawing layer: Can float in front of text (occluding it) or behind text as well as have text wrap around it
 
bulletVertical placement of text can be top center or bottom in a Textbox (Word 2010 and later).
 
bulletCan be placed in the page margin
bulletPrinting is controlled by the option to "Print drawing objects created in Word"
bulletDisplay on screen is controlled by the option to "Show drawings and Textboxes on screen" 
 
bulletCan be linked, with text flowing from one to the next
bulletCan contain pictures or other graphical elements
bulletCannot start a footnote/endnote
bulletCannot contain a caption that will be seen for cross-reference or table of figures purposes in versions of Word before 2007
bulletCannot contain a comment
bulletCannot contain certain fields including***:
bulletAUTONUM
bulletAUTONUMLGL
bulletAUTONUMOUT
bulletTC
bulletTOC
bulletRD
bulletXE
bulletTA
bulletTOA
bulletSTYLEREF - very important when using in Headers and Footers
bulletFORMTEXT
bulletFORMCHECKBOX
bulletFORMDROPDOWN
bulletHeadings in Textboxes will not appear in Navigation Pane or Document Map
 
bulletHeadings in Textboxes will not appear in Tables of Contents in versions of Word before Word 2007
bulletHave access to all the line and fill formatting options as with AutoShapes, including 3D and shadow effects
bulletAutomatic numbering not available
bulletShapes created in Word can be converted to Textboxes
bulletLike other Shapes, Textboxes in Word can be rotated beginning with Word 2010. (Shapes can be rotated in previous versions, but not text contained therein. Rotation of actual Textboxes was introduced in Word 2010. The rotation of Textboxes and shapes in Word 2010 also rotates the text with it, allowing text at angles other than 90 and 270 degrees. This change means that in Word 2010 and later, it is possible to have text in a shape at 180 degrees (upside-down) in a portrait-oriented page.)

 

* For text at 180 degrees rotation in Word before Word 2010, you need to use a table and/or Textboxes/Frames in landscape mode. One set of text (cell/Textbox/Frame) is rotated 90 degrees clockwise, another set is rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise. In Word 2010 and later you can rotate a Textbox 180 degrees including its text. ** Frames do not have a built-in control to change text direction. In Word 97-2003 use the control on the Tables and Borders Toolbar. In Ribbon versions, add the control to the QAT. These will work on text in the frame.
*** Some of these fields can be used in Textboxes beginning with Word 2007. In Word 2007 you may have to enter the field in the Textbox by copying a field from one outside the Textbox or generating the field using Insert > Quick Parts > Field.
bulletI have entered an XE field in Word 2007 Textbox using this Insert method, but not easily. Once the field is there, though, whether copied and edited or created by Insert > Field, it works in the Index.
bulletAt least as far as Word 2010, a TC field can be created, with some difficulty, in a Textbox, but will not be picked up in a Table of Contents. Given that, I can't imagine any reason to put the field in the Textbox.
bulletA Table of Contents (TOC) field can be created in a Textbox beginning with Word 2007. I'm not sure what the utility of such a TOC would be, though.
bulletNote that a Table of Contents generated using Headings reflects not only page numbers but also relative positions. The position of a Textbox is its graphic "Anchor" which may be somewhere different from the place the Textbox appears on the page. Thus, a Textbox-enclosed heading could appear out of order.
bulletA field in a Textbox may not be selected for updating when one in a Frame would. Specifically, if you use Ctrl+A to select all text in a document, it will catch fields in a Frame but not in a Textbox.

**** In Word 2010 and later Text Boxes are treated as Shapes. They cannot be converted to Frames. The only practical way to convert a Text Box in one of the later versions of Word to a Frame is to save in .doc format. Then convert.

 

Faithe Wempen in Microsoft Word 2010 In Depth states that "Frames can only be used in legacy format documents -- that is documents in Word 97-2003 format." I have not found this to be correct and have used Frames in documents in native Word 2007-2016 format. The envelopes feature in Word creates Frames.

My thanks to Word MVP's Suzanne Barnhill, Stefan Blom, and Jay Freedman for their input on the above summary. Their comments helped keep me on track. Any errors, though, are mine alone.

Links to other resources:

bullet The Difference Between a Textbox and a Frame in Microsoft Word - Microsoft Office.com site

Frames are used as the method for positioning Addresses on Envelopes by Word (all versions). Again, they are part of Style definitions. See Change Envelope Layout on Graham Mayor's site for more about these envelope styles and the Frame incorporated therein.

Frames are not intuitively created in the Ribbon versions of Word (Word 2007 and later). In those versions, one simple user interface control for them is in the legacy form tools on the Developer Tab. Another is in the Modify Style > Format > Frames dialog. You can also add a control to the QAT: How to Easily Insert Frames in Word 2007. The screenshot below is of the control to insert a frame on the Developer Tab.

Especially if using them with Legacy Forms you may want to download the free Add-In that restores Classic Form Controls (as in the Forms Toolbar) to the Ribbon. This includes both the Frame and the Checkbox control and gives you the Lock button. Add Classic FormField Controls to Ribbon

You can also access Frame controls using the style definition/modification dialog. It is one of the formatting options. This is less intuitive but gives more control. This is the same dialog you get when you right-click on the edge of a Frame and select "Format Frame" except that it is in the context of modifying or creating a Style definition.

 

Text Direction

Changing Text Direction in a Frame

To change text direction in a Frame in Word 97-2003, use the control on the Tables and Borders toolbar while you have the insertion point inside the Frame.

To change text direction in a Frame in Word 2007 and later, add the control to the QAT. Then use it from there.

 

Changing Text Direction in a Textbox

Textboxes bring with them tools for text direction change. In Word 97-2003 a Textbox Toolbar pops up when you are in a Textbox. In Word 2007 and later, a special ribbon tab appears. In Word 2007 there is a separate context tab, in later versions the Drawing Tools tab is displayed with the Text group active.

 

Reusing Frame and Textbox Patterns

Saving Frames for Reuse

The simplest way to save a frame definition for re-use is to make it a part of a Paragraph Style's definition. In ribbon versions of Word these can be part of a QuickStyle Gallery and a QuickStyle set. A frame can also be selected and saved as AutoText (or in a later version of Word another kind of Building Block). In ribbon versions of Word it would be possible to create a custom Building Block Gallery of Frames.

bullet

Understanding Styles in Word

bullet

Building Blocks & AutoText

bullet

Building Blocks and AutoText in Word

Saving Textboxes for Reuse

Textboxes can be selected and saved as AutoText for insertion at a later time and in different documents.

In ribbon versions of Word, there is a separate building blocks Gallery for Textboxes. You can add your own choices to that Gallery. When you do this, your custom Textbox pattern will show up as a choice under the Textbox button on the Insert Tab. If you begin the name of your custom Textbox Building Block with an underscore (_MyTextbox) it will be displayed at the top of the Gallery. (For your Textbox patterns to show up in the gallery they need to be saved as a Textbox building block in the default first-listed Category. Unless you have created categories, this will be the Built-In Category.)

As always, Building Blocks (and AutoText) must be stored in a template. Building Blocks other than AutoText can only be stored in .dotx or .dotm templates. If you intend to share them, they should be stored somewhere other than in the Building Blocks.dotx or Normal.dotm templates that come with Word.

bullet

Building Blocks & AutoText

bullet

Building Blocks and AutoText in Word

This page last edited on Wednesday, October 04, 2017.

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Copyright 2000-2017 Charles Kyle Kenyon

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